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Julia Lee was born on this date in 1902. She was a Black singer and pianist.
Julia Lee was born in Boonville, Missouri and raised in Kansas City, where she attended Lincoln High School. As a child, she performed with her father's string trio, as well as at neighborhood house parties and church socials. She began her professional musical career singing and playing the piano in her brother's band, George E. Lee and his Novelty Singing Orchestra.
His band formed around 1920 and, among the Black musical groups in the Kansas City area, was the biggest rival of the Bennie Moten Orchestra during that decade. George Lee's band featured outstanding singers and soloists. It was also the training ground for many talented young musicians, including, briefly, Charlie Parker. In 1935, Lee launched an independent career. Lee was known for her husky voice, her straightforward piano style, and her easy, heartfelt way of singing. In a professional career that spanned four decades, Lee built a national reputation as one of the great female blues singers of all time.
A major figure in the blues revival that followed World War II, her trademark was double-entrendres, or, as she once said, "the songs my mother taught me not to sing." She made several hit records in the 1940s. "Come On Over to My House, Baby" led to a recording contract with Capitol Records in 1946. "Snatch and Grab It" (1947), sold a half million copies. She worked primarily in the Midwest and frequently teamed up with the great drummer, Samuel "Baby" Lovett. In 1949, Lee and Lovett played at the White House at the invitation of President Harry Truman.
Lee was married for a time to baseball player and manager Frank Duncan, of the Kansas City Monarchs. At the time of her death on December 8, 1958, in San Diego, she was one of the most popular performers in Kansas City.
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York